Councillor says rethinking support for Saskatoon freeway route would be a 'horrible mistake'
Group had asked city council to rethink support of freeway cutting through Swale
A Saskatoon city councillor says it would be a "horrible mistake" for city council to pull back its historic support for the routing of one section of the Saskatchewan government's planned Saskatoon freeway project.
Councillor Randy Donauer's comment comes in the wake of a letter from people worried about the freeway section planned to go through the Northeast Swale and Small Swale, natural grasslands collectively known as the Swale.
The perimeter highway, long in the works, is meant to divert heavy truck traffic from the city's other main roadways.
The Saskatoon Environmental Advisory Committee (SEAC) recently wrote city council to express its concern about "the potential for a multi-lane high-speed freeway to cut through this important natural area." The Swale is home to more than 100 bird species, 200 plant species and at-risk animals as varied as short-eared owls and northern leopard frogs.
"We advise city council to engage the provincial government to reconsider the proposed route and ensure appropriate protection of this critical habitat," wrote SEAC chair Sara Harrison.
'Horrible mistake for us to backtrack'
At the Monday meeting of city council's environment committee, Donauer threw water on that idea.
"I've been on council for nine years," he said. "During that entire time, we've been lobbying for this freeway project to go ahead."
The project will gestate slowly, Donauer cautioned.
"We're probably looking at 10 to 20 years before this gets built and only political will will change that," said Donauer. "So if anybody's listening, you can call your local MLA — which I have — though I sympathize with the letter.
"I think it would be a horrible mistake for us to backtrack on the province now that we've agreed with the alignment several years ago."
City council — which only has an advisory role when it comes to the provincial highway — gave its support to that section of the route back in 2006, even before Donauer was on council.
"Since this time, the importance and sensitivity of the Swale has become known and yet, a full field survey of its importance across jurisdictional boundaries has not been completed," wrote Harrison.
Other councillor voices 'a strong worry'
Donauer pointed out Monday that the Meewasin Valley Authority has been tapped to complete environmental field studies of the Swale, a process that includes collecting information on the wildlife and vegetation in the area.
"The province is doing a very wide cast of this, and they're starting now because they know they have several years to go," said Donauer.
An environmental and heritage technical working group will also look to how to mitigate the freeway's impact on the Swale. The freeway project might also trigger a full environmental impact review by the Ministry of Environment, according to the city.
One city councillor did say she shared SEAC's concern about the freeway.
"I do have a strong worry about putting a freeway through both an urban area and a natural area," said Sarina Gersher.
The province has not yet set out a timeline for construction.